A praying nation

I wrote this essay for another publication, back in September, 2001.

Ultimately, America’s secular façade crumbled even before its material symbols collapsed. I first turned on my radio — and heard the first words regarding Tuesday’s disaster — moments before the second tower was struck. The voices of the national news team were already urging Americans to pray for the safety of those involved. It sounded almost glib at first, but as the unreal became real and the horror increased by the minute, the references became more heart-felt, even desperate.

As our true helplessness and vulnerability became apparent, the call to pray was in every report and every story. And pray we did: alone, with our families, and in special services and vigils that themselves became news. All of this flying in the face of a culture and media that has said for years that faith and divine intervention are, at best, inappropriate if not impossible. It must have been like discovering that the kooky old aunt you’ve been keeping in the attic is the only one who knows where the family silver is buried.

But which is the true picture of America? Are we a secular society that merely pays lip service to faith when a crisis looms, or are we a nation of quiet faithful who allow ourselves to be cowed by society until circumstances give us a chance to break out? I know how our attackers would describe us.

Make no mistake, this is a spiritual and religious war. Those who attacked us chose as their main target what they perceived to be the symbolic spiritual center of our nation. Perhaps we need to ask why the most recognizable symbol — and target — of a country founded on Christian principles should turn out to be the World Trade Center.

My opinion, however, is that we are primarily a nation of faith even if the cultural spin obscures this. There are just too many blessings in our lives and too few fruitful external assaults on our freedom and security for it to be otherwise. Our country could not have developed the abundance we experience (or manage our enormous debt) without God’s favor and the generally well-intentioned (if unfocused) spiritual character of our people. The vicious and ungodly in-fighting of our leaders and factions in an attempt to garner power and divvy up the fruit from our foundational blessings is both sad and laughable in comparison to the desperation that much of the rest of the world lives in: we’re fleas fighting over the dog, but our biting and scratching just may drive the dog crazy (to which the dyslexic, atheistic flea shouts “there is no dog!”)

But if we’re stronger spiritually than we realize, what is the meaning of the September 11 attacks?

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